Meadville was settled at the confluence of Cussewago Creek and French Creek in the late 18th century. A town emerged in the early 19th century, after Revolutionary War veterans received land bounties in the area. The local Allegheny College was founded in 1815. The introduction of canal and later rail infrastructure starting in the late 1830s, and the discovery of oil throughout northwestern Pennsylvania in the late 1850s, increased area industrial activity.
The first Jewish settlers in Meadville arrived in the early to mid-19th century and were largely of German ancestry. They founded a Jewish cemetery as early as 1848 but did not secure a deed for the property until 1866. They organized the Meadville Hebrew Society in 1866 and leased space on the third floor of 953 Water St. for a synagogue. Meadville was likely the smallest of the 19th century Jewish communities in Western Pennsylvania. The volume Statistics of the Jews of the United States, published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1880, listed a population of 120.
Despite its small size, the Jewish community played a large role in the economic and political life of Meadville. Many of the largest dry goods and clothing stores were owned by Jewish merchants, and three Jews were elected to city council during these years.
The Jewish population gradually dwindled through the end of the 19th century. A group of 23 men established a B’nai B’rith Lodge in Meadville in the 1870s, but the lodge only counted 12 members by 1889. The Meadville Hebrew Society closed in 1895, according to a 1939 survey from the Works Progress Administration Church Archives. The few remaining Jewish residents or their relatives formed the Meadville Hebrew Cemetery Association in 1909, presumably to oversee maintenance of the old Jewish cemetery.
A second Jewish community emerged in the decade before World War I and peaked in the decade before World War II. While the original community was largely German, the new community hailed mostly from Eastern Europe. The group began worshiping in the Kohler Building on Chestnut Street in about 1930, organized B’nai B’rith Lodge No. 1193 in 1935 and chartered a new congregation called Temple Israel in 1937. The American Jewish Yearbook listed a population of 28 in its 1907-1908 edition, 75 in its 1918-1919 edition, 80 in its 1928-1929 edition and 60 in its 1940-1941 edition.
Efforts to build a synagogue in Meadville began in 1952 and culminated in 1955, when the congregation dedicated a building at 379 Park Ave. As of early 2017, the Allegheny College chapter of Hillel was using the building as a Jewish Community Center.